Churches Without Elders Still Have a Shepherd
We have often pointed out that there is a way of remembering the six words used to describe elders that can be easily remembered. Take the first letter of each of the six words and form a new word. Because an elder must have children, just remember this truth, “Elders must BE-POPS.” Those six words? B=bishops; E=elders; P=presbyters; O=overseers; P=pastors and S=shepherds. Each of these words emphasize an important aspect of what an elder must be and what he must do.
God’s desire is for every church to have elders. Paul, on his first missionary journey, established many churches in Asia Minor. After he arrived at the most distant city, Derbe, he began appointing elders. “And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch…So when they had appointed elders in every church and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:21-23).
It is important to notice the importance of every church having elders. Because of abilities imparted when receiving the Holy Spirit through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, these infant churches were able to develop elders more quickly than in our day.
Elders have no authority outside of the local congregation. Peter described their work and the limits of their authority. “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers” (1 Pet. 5:2). God limits the work of the elder to the flock where he lives. He cannot rule over multiple churches.
Because elders must be spiritually mature men, some congregations do not have elders. One of the qualifications for an elder is that he cannot be a novice, a new convert (1 Tim. 3:6). Those who preach in those places and those who are leaders should set as one of their highest priorities to develop elders. Appointing men to be elders who are not spiritually qualified, just so a church can have men called elders, creates many problems. Until that time arrives, church leaders must ensure that the church is fed, restoring the wayward is not neglected and the church is led to have peace—still waters and green pastures.
Even without elders to shepherd them, a church is still God’s flock. One point overlooked is that Jesus is described as the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Pet. 5:6). Churches without an eldership still have this Shepherd. He may not be physically present, but He is in their midst overseeing them and providing food for every sheep. If you are a member of a congregation without elders, do not think that you have no Shepherd.